Older Adults & Hearing Loss

Older Adults & Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition that older adults live with today. Hearing loss reduces capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound which affects hearing and communication. This has multifaceted effects including impacting care for older adults. This is evidenced by various studies that show that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to experience hospital readmission. This includes a study that showed that people with hearing loss were 32% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital compared to those without hearing loss. This highlights the importance of addressing hearing loss which can significantly improve the care of older adults. 

Older Adults & Hearing Loss

Older adults are disproportionately impacted by hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD): 

  • 1 in 3 adults, ages 65-74, have some degree of hearing loss. 
  • 1 in 2 adults, ages 75 and older, have disabling hearing loss. 

This data highlights that the risk of developing hearing loss increases with age. There are a few factors that contribute to age related hearing loss, including the following: 

  • changes to the ear that may happen over time. 
  • the cumulative toll that exposure to loud noise can have on the auditory system. 
  • existing medical conditions that impact older adults (disproportionately) and are linked to hearing loss – cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis etc. 

Age related hearing loss is also permanent. It is most commonly addressed with hearing aids, electronic devices that help absorb and process speech as well as sound. 

Impact of Healthcare Systems on People with Hearing Loss 

Hearing loss can significantly impact the care that older adults receive. There are a few ways that healthcare environments like hospitals and clinics adversely impact people with hearing loss. This includes: 

  • Noisy settings: hospitals and other healthcare settings tend to be active environments that contain lots of different sounds. From machines to conversations happening in the lobby, these settings are filled with background noise that can make it harder to hear. Background noise provides additional noise that the brain has to process and filter through. This can lead to cognitive overload, fatigue, and create more hearing challenges. 
  • Increased activity: emergency care situations can be chaotic. Things tend to move quickly while questions are being asked rapidly. This can also make it harder to hear and focus. 
  • Lack of understanding: Another factor that makes care tough for people with hearing loss is that healthcare providers are not always trained to interface with people who have impaired hearing. This lack of understanding and experience makes it really challenging to communicate. This can lead to frustrating interactions and miscommunication. 

These factors can inform the care that older adults receive. The care can be inadequate leading to readmission and other health implications. 

How to Improve Care

Addressing hearing loss within healthcare systems and environments can improve care of older adults tremendously. There are several effective ways this can be done including the following: 

  1. Ask Questions: healthcare providers are required to communicate as effectively as possible. To do this, it needs to be first understood if the patient has hearing loss. This can be known by simply asking if the person has hearing loss. Once this becomes clear, you can then ask about the best ways to communicate with them. This creates the space and opportunity for the patient to share how their hearing can best be supported. 
  2. Utilize Resources: there are different resources that healthcare providers can use when interfacing with patients who have hearing loss. This includes resources developed by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). The HLAA developed a guide that helps health care providers assess the needs of their patients with hearing loss. This guide, A Communication Access Plan (CAP), is a one-page form that will document the hearing status and communication needs of patients. Once the CAP is completed, it becomes part of the patient’s file, allowing other healthcare providers to readily have access to this information. 
  3. Use Communication Strategies: another useful way to provide quality care is to use communication strategies. This includes the strategies that the patient shares with you when you ask how you can best support their hearing needs. 

Using these strategies can help healthcare providers with offering quality care for people with hearing loss. Contact us today to learn more!